Shakespeare’s will: the Bard and his beds

What comes to mind when you think of Shakespeare? The plays? The sonnets? Or the other poetry? Perhaps all three. But what about his last will and testament? Chances are, that’s not something you’ve ever really given much thought to. Though maybe you should.

You’re probably wondering why we’re asking. Well, wonder no more.

Will’s will

As you may or may not know, in his will Shakespeare bequeathed his ‘second best bed’ to his wife, Anne. At this point, you may be thinking either ‘weird’ or ‘so what’. The thing is, for a long time this was seen as a bit of a snub towards poor Anne. Which contributed to the assumption that he didn’t exactly have the warmest of relationships with his family. 

A little more than kin, and less than kind?

No, not really. Thanks to the wonders of x-ray and infra-red technology, we now know that not only was his will not drafted in one sitting, but that the clause leaving his second best bed to Anne was added to the will a mere month before his death. 

So he may well have known he was dying when he included the gift. Which would suggest that the gift, rather than being a thinly-veiled insult towards his wife, was instead something a little more heart-felt; a last-minute redrafting to help ensure she was provided for. A bed, after all, was a pretty substantial piece of furniture. And that suggests that, perhaps, he wasn’t as hard-hearted towards his family as previously thought. Rather, he may well have been concerned to see that Anne had somewhere to get the ‘season of all natures’ - sleep.

Curious as to what happened to his very best bed? That would have remained with his house, which was inherited by his eldest daughter Judith. Obviously.

All’s Will that ends Will

So what’s the point?

The point is that your will isn’t just a way of leaving specific assets to certain individuals or causes, although that’s certainly an important function of it. It also helps shape the legacy you leave behind, financial and otherwise. In other words, it affects the way others remember you. You can find out more by reading our gifts in wills page.

So make a will. Make sure it’s valid, and does what you actually want it to do. You'll likely want to leave gifts, in which case you should take care to clearly describe exactly what it is you're leaving. And if you want to make additions or amendments, do so properly - using a codicil. If it’s a big alteration, make a new will. Don’t make the changes by hand. To find out more, read our section about changing a will

And how do you make a will? You’ll find the appropriate button at the top of the page.